Our final day in Cairo brought us to the great expectation of any journey to Egypt – the Giza Plateau and the Great Pyramid. It is impossible to fully comprehend the scale of the Great Pyramid until you stand beside it. The blocks of stone at the base were enormous. Each stone was more than half my height. Here, at least, Indiana Jones may have lurked. So did the camels. They are not like horses and are more like prisoners on a chain gang – awaiting the chance to misbehave. I rode one of these animals around the pyramid and down to the Sphynx. Here is a photo of the back of the camel’s head. Look out for the spit…
I remember the anticipation for entering the Great Pyramid. I did not know quite what to expect. The beginning was a roughed out tunnel that required one to walk bent over for quite a distance. This tunnel was created by one of the many attempts of history to penetrate the secrets of the ancients. Many failed, but, the legacy of this attempt was to be my access to one of the most empty places I have ever been. Just when I thought I might be overcome by claustrophobia, the ceiling rose into the grand corridor. There was nothing – no art, no hieroglyphs, nothing.
The long steep passage led to a very small, dark burgundy granite room. The room was empty but for a ruined sarcophagus of the same stone. I thought such emptiness should come with an absence of feeling, but, this was not the case. This room was 4500 years old and resonated with Time itself. I was compelled to search the room. I ran my hands along the smooth granite walls waiting for the stone to speak. It whispered to me the weight of years and tonnes of stone. Despite the fact that this was supposed to be a grave, it didn’t speak of Death. If Eternal Life was the goal of the Pharaoh, this place did, indeed, carry a sense of immortality. However, I ended up leaving the room with a feeling of deep loneliness and longing.
Cairo’s outlying areas become increasingly less modern. Cars eventually give way entirely to mules. Much of what I had experienced up to this point had been with the tour group. On this particular afternoon, I decided to abandon the despotism of one of the girls in my group. She delighted in foolishness. The night before, she led the group out of the tourist area. This in itself was not so much a problem, however, it was dusk and we were all women. While we were, normally, quietly tolerated during the day, the verbal calls and glares were unrestrained. As we moved forward we drew greater attention. I suggested we turn back with the intent to quietly slip away and avoid confrontation. She defied my suggestion merely to keep power over the group. I was not foolish enough to turn around on my own. In her need to prove her power over the sheep, we walked a further 30 or so feet. That was the end of the group experience for me. I did not need this kind of company. So the remaining time in Cairo, I spent on my own.
With each step I took away from the others the following day, I felt exhilaration. As I walked along the canal, I felt invisible. This was not a negative experience. I had the privilege of the position of observer. My path was bordered by the canal on one side and a line of storefronts on the other – all in a light sandy colour, some whitewashed. I peeked over the edge of the canal to see huge masses of rotting vegetation float by and boxes of garbage. While I contemplated why there were boxes in the canal, a man stepped out in front of my carrying one such box. He marched straight past a bin and tossed it in.
I was then diverted by a commotion at the other end of the street. A small group of men were gathered in a tiny circle and appeared to be beating at the ground. Keeping my distance, I tried to see what it was they were on about. Suddenly, the men cleared and I saw what looked like a dead snake on the ground.
That night we embarked on the overnight train to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. After a poor and restless sleep, I awoke early to get to the toilet first. This seemingly benign action opened my eyes to another thing I take for granted – sanitation. On the door of the toilet was a sign requesting that the unit not be used while in the station. I pondered this while doing my thing and as I bent to flush, I quickly found out why. On pulling the handle I was able to see the tracks pass beneath me. Images of desert track were just fading from my mind when the train arrived at the most beautiful and unique stop down the Nile.
Luxor greeted me with a gentle breeze and calm waters. The Winter Palace hotel was of the British Imperial style from the turn of the century. I could easily imagine Lawrence of Arabia sweeping down its staircase. The entry was spectacular. The stone staircase curved, the rooms had 14 foot ceilings and two foot door jambs. The back of the building had a double sweeping staircase leading to an opulent pool. This was such a stark contrast from most of the trip to this point. I would be lying if I said I didn’t love it.
Karnak Temple and the Valley of the King and Queens are the main attractions in Luxor, as well as, Tutankhamon’s tomb. I am not sure there is much to add on the subject of Tutankhamon’s tomb. I entered it and it was beautiful. The mystique was not what I expected. This place had a greater feeling of Death than did the pyramids. Impressive was Hatchepsut’s tomb. Hatchepsut defied the male dominant nature of the ancient Egyptian social order, was a valiant warrior, even though her half brother was given much of the credit for her conquests. Her legacy was all but destroyed by a jealous King and yet her temple is one of the most unique in Egypt. Her story is beautifully told by fiction writer Pauline Gedge in “Child of the Morning”. I recommend this one for anyone with a passion for ancient Egypt.
Karnak Temple was colossal. What was remarkable about this site was that there was original pigments still on the underside of the spans between the columns 50 feet up. There was a sound and light show over the sacred lake one evening, but I believe I slept through most of it. I had dozed next to water that was untouched by any but the Pharaoh and his priests. What I remember is the warm embrace of the night air….